Assassin’s Creed 3 Review: One Step Forward, Two Back

It’s amazing, sometimes, how a video game can manage to create dual reactions of “awesome” and “awful” within a few seconds of one another.

But that was my experience with Assassin’s Creed 3, by and large. There are many cool ideas that worked their way into the game, and just as many jarring, slight irritations, just enough to detract from the experience or make it slightly frustrating. For a flagship franchise now on its fifth game in the core series, we expect higher quality — a certain level of polish.

First Look with Mitch and Zac from Game Front’s Walkthrough Channel on Youtube

It’s polish that Assassin’s Creed 3 lacks, both in bugs that made it into the final game and in design decisions that make little or no sense. Those two sets of elements collude to make this feel like a first outing, rather than the culmination of five years of game development for the series. For as interesting as Assassin’s Creed 3 is on paper, the result of the series’ fifth entry is a step back for the franchise as a whole.

Assassin’s Creed 3 (Playstation 3 [Reviewed], Xbox 360, PC)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Oct. 30, 2012
MSRP: $59.99

That’s not to say Assassin’s Creed 3 is wholly bad, because it isn’t. Let’s start out by saying that anything that follows, both criticism and praise, is built on the solid foundation of the Assassin’s Creed formula: sneak, climb, and stab. Those things still work as they always have, and really, if they were broken at all we’d be having a much different discussion. Since it has that strong skeleton that made the last four games work, Assassin’s Creed 3 comes with a baseline of quality, and then builds upon it with a few new gameplay ideas, along with a new setting and characters.

The game has its moments, definitely, and there are few, if any, games that pack the value the AC series does in terms of sheer sh-t to do in a video game. The new game focuses on the exciting setting of Revolutionary War America as viewed by Connor, a new character who is torn between the hopes of a burgeoning nation and the need to protect his Native American people. And it adds a few new and exciting systems to the existing formula of climbing on buildings and stabbing bad guys without anyone seeing.

Those new tools are, by and large, just fine — a bow and arrow is fun to shoot once in a while, as are muskets, and ramming an enemy’s head into a rack of sharp farm equipment earns that violent satisfaction upon which the game is based. The new corner cover system is something Assassin’s Creed games have always lacked and never known it, and when it works, hiding in bushes and ground cover gives you a “lion stalking the Savannah” kind of feeling as you approach targets.

As Connor, players experience the revolution while also fighting the evil and ubiquitous Templars, who have largely infiltrated the British side of the war (although not only the Redcoats). Connor’s big boon and the best part of the game is that he’s able to take to the trees in a way that no assassin before him ever has, and that’s convenient because so much of Colonial America is made up of the sweeping wilderness called the Frontier. Following convoys, hunting animals, ambushing soldiers — it’s a nice change of pace to sneak around in snow-covered forests, especially when you can move over your enemies undetected.

Join the Conversation   

* required field

By submitting a comment here you grant GameFront a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.

31 Comments on Assassin’s Creed 3 Review: One Step Forward, Two Back

Swcloud99

On October 30, 2012 at 2:55 pm

And here I thought Assassin’s Creed was Desmond’s story. Since he doesn’t get a single mention here, I am guessing they finally decided to keep going the road of keeping him irrelevant?

Fynriel

On October 30, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Wow 2012 is full of disappointment! It’s almost November and there isn’t a single clear GOTY contender.

Andrés

On October 30, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Most reviews ignore Desmond’s story altogether. For my part, it’s the only reason I keep playing these games.

Phil Hornshaw

On October 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Actually, one of the best moments in the game is Desmond’s story, and he actually has a few events of his own where he actually gets to DO things. That said, Connor’s story is 90 percent of the game as compared to Desmond’s 10. It may even be less than that, really. The bulk of the time is spent in the Animus, and so that’s where I put the majority of the review.

If you want to talk about Desmond’s story — it remains as confusing as ever, though he’s getting better as a character finally. He has a few missions where he finally gets to stretch out those assassin skills, but they feel built to be unloseable. They’re nice diversions, but don’t come up very often.

As for your comment, @Swcloud, I’m not sure Assassin’s Creed has EVER been Desmond’s story. He’s the vehicle through which the player experiences the past. Desmond’s story is a reason to get you experiencing what Altair, Ezio and Connor did — it’s an excuse to play in the past. I can’t see any interpretation of Assassin’s Creed in which they are “Desmond’s story,” given how little time you actually spend playing as him or experiencing HIS story.

Andrés

On October 30, 2012 at 4:17 pm

@Phil Hornshaw: You’re right, Ubisoft never invested heavily on Desmond’s story, which is why I was looking forward to an AC game more focused on him as a 21st century assassin. The 21st century side of the story looks to be more interesting but, as it stands, it’s also extremely messy and inconsistent. I’m still waiting on the supposed “revelations” that ACR was going to deliver and I’d like to understand at least half of the things Subject 16 told me in Brotherhood not to mention what the Templars planned to do about world’s end. It feels as if with every new title, there are far more questions than answers, what will eventually tax the writers to a point they’ll just discard some things rather than provide a satisfactory conclusion.

Steve Clegg

On October 31, 2012 at 4:07 am

Phil – I think Ubisoft WANTS it to be Desmond’s story, but there’s too little Desmond in it to make that feasible. The first game in the franchise was actually pretty effective in making Desmond the avatar through which everything else was experienced and making his circumstances seem as important as Altair’s, but since then they’ve barely done anything with him outside of having him kill the most likeable character in the game for reasons still unexplained – and, in fact, an advertised plot point in Revelations was supposed to be that Desmond was looking for a way to somehow reverse what he’d done so she’d live, which as we all know never came into play or was even alluded to in the slightest.

Honestly, you have to wonder if they even have an end-goal for Desmond. I actually have a theory as to how they could end it, but it’s so depressing that I actually hope they don’t go with it, even though it would be an awesome reveal. If they ended the entire series with Desmond and his crew beating the Templars, but then we found out that EVERYTHING was just a descendant of Desmond in another Templar animus looking back at everything Desmond did, and the Templars win as a result, that would be incredible. But I hope they don’t do that, because it would be depressing for the sake of it and frankly twist endings are too commonplace these days.

Mark

On October 31, 2012 at 5:51 am

I am not that far into the game yet, however, I totally agree with this review. There are SO MANY BUGS. I routinely find weapons just floating in mid-air. Or I randomly pop out of cover for no reason. Ironically, it seems that when I do, another bug usually comes along and prevents some guard from seeing me. I HATE the whole “British Officers are more intelligent enemies” mechanic. It’s terrible. What they really mean is that an officer will immediately spot you as an enemy when you’re in a Redcoat unifrom, 400 yards away, just walking down a sidewalk. But feel free to go have a conversation with a non-officer. He won’t even notice. I was really, really looking forward to this game and, so far, it isn’t living up to my expectations. It seems like AC2 with different character skins and different cities. I remember watching previews for the original Assassins Creed and thinking about how it could turn out to be one of the most epic trilogies ever. For me, it has devolved into a story of unmet potential. It could have been so fantastic, and instead it turned out so mediocre.

Matthew

On October 31, 2012 at 6:47 am

This is because of the yearly rush to “franchise” the “product.” I think we need to remind UbiSoft that it’s a game first and a franchise second. I stopped buying after I realized the same dynamic in Assassin’s Creed Revelations. It was a great story and concept but the contextual controls and glitches ruined it for me. Coupled with their COD-esque yearly launch window.

I personally think absence makes the heart grow fonder. A year without a good game franchise is ok. The 5 years between Elder Scrolls 4 and 5 for example just made me salivate more for whatever Elder Scrolls dished up. It could have been Elder Scrols 4.1 in a skyrim package and I would have been happy.

Phil Hornshaw

On October 31, 2012 at 7:43 am

@Steve and Andres,

I’ll say that I finally gave a crap about Desmond and what was going on with him this time out, and it does finally start to feel like all that time spent in the Animus was good for something. Desmond has become the primary field agent for his cell at this point, so when he’s not being Connor, he actually gets to go and do things with all the abilities he’s been storing up. And if you spend time talking to the other characters whenever you hop out of the Animus, you can get some interesting backstory going just like in the past few games.

I guess I didn’t cover those things in this review so much because, as I mentioned, there is so little of it. It’s like an interesting aside, and occasionally you step out of the 1770s for the sake of catching up on what the hell is going on in the real world. When Desmond runs missions, they can be fairly good — I mentioned one in the review briefly, in which he has to climb a building under construction, and it was not only a great set of environmental puzzles, it was freaking gorgeous. Like seriously — getting out side over the city at night was amazing-looking.

But Desmond’s story has always been a bit schizophrenic. It starts out interesting in Assassin’s Creed but you can’t actually do anything, and exploring Monteriggioni as Desmond had its moments as well. I appreciate that we’ve finally gotten to a point where Desmond is less needless douchebag and more contributing member of the team (it sure took long enough), but his portions of the game still remain rather small, despite the improvement.

joseph

On October 31, 2012 at 11:41 am

This is why I come to Gamefront, to read quality reviews like this. Excellent review Phil.

SweetPea

On October 31, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned the ending. A lot of people consider it almost or even as bad as ME3′s.

Phil Hornshaw

On October 31, 2012 at 1:15 pm

@SweetPea

Yeah, I wasn’t particularly satisfied with it — however, I’ve never felt like the framing story of Assassin’s Creed was very good up to now either, nor are the endings ever very good. The weirdness with the First Civ, the sun, et. al., always felt a little half-baked and dopey. So while the ending is sort of weak…I guess that was more or less what I expected.

I dunno, SweetPea, what are your (spoiler-free) thoughts?

@Joseph

Thanks! Much appreciated.

SweetPea

On October 31, 2012 at 2:24 pm

@Phil
To be honest, I’m not exactly familiar with the story of the Assassins’s Creed series, as I haven’t played all of the games, so I said that from what I heard. But I have similiar feelings as you, the AC games were never so focused on the story as ME was, so no high expectations –> less disappointment.

MckinneyMini

On October 31, 2012 at 4:46 pm

This review was so on point, amazing review and exactly how I felt playing this game.

crotchety old man

On November 1, 2012 at 2:05 am

The main reason i didn’t pre order and why i am waiting for the $20+ price drop is even if this is a “AAA” title… theres never been any replay value in Assassins Creed franchise. I looked back on the pile of AC games i have and have never once felt the urge to play any of them thru more then once….

So after reviews like this, its kinda hard to feel like i’m missing much of anything…. if there is no replay value a game just isn’t worth a $60 price tag.

Ras Trent

On November 1, 2012 at 3:44 am

crotchety old man

With the exception of the second game, which I bought on PS3 then on 360 when I realised the first game didn’t have trophies and decided to continue the series on Xbox instead (so therefore I decided to finish the game and max out trophies/achievements on both consoles to made sure I got my money’s worth), I agree that I’ve never had any inclination to play through the games again afterwards. The only one that really stands out, aside from 2, as one I’d like to revisit from start to finish is the first game due to the locations and the more patient/restrained nature, but unfortunately it also controls far worse and with far less variety than the others, as well as having a boring protagonist and inconsistent sound levelling with no subtitles, so really I can’t see myself ever bothering with that again. I probably will end up getting the third game, or asking for it for Christmas, but I’m not as excited for it as I feel I should be given it’s a whole new environment and characters. I think they made a mistake by sticking with Ezio for so long, although at least they had him in different locations each game.

It's Shafs

On November 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm

@ Phil, it’s your brother from the Mitten. Duder, love the reviews you do. I don’t know how you just played three major releases in the past month, but I tip my hat to you.

After Brotherhood and Revelations, Assassin’s Creed has somewhat lost me as a customer. 2 was awesome, Brotherhood was the same game to me and seemed like they phoned it in to make money, and Revelations was just not fun for me at all. Ezio was old and no longer interesting, Altair’s end story was good, and Desmond’s felt so tacked on with “oh I knew all about the Assassins the whole time and have a missing father that now has suddenly found me.”

After that I remained skeptical on getting ACIII specially after I heard that they were “working very hard to get it out before the end of the world in 2012″ in a press release. Reading your review has convinced me that nothing has changed and helped me save my $60 for lap dances. I’ll save 20 for you brother…

Phil Hornshaw

On November 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm

@Shafs

Hahaha, thanks man. Appreciated.

Wesker1984

On November 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm

@ It’s Shafs
”Reading your review has convinced me that nothing has changed and helped me save my $60 for lap dances.”

Stupid excuse. Your not a fan of immersive story didn’t you? Despite its flaws AC3 is a great game and it worth it 60 bucks. Me i purchased the collector edition for 120 bucks with it 30 bucks strategy guide and i’M still waiting for my 300 bucks Nemesis statue from Hollywood Collectibles. You see i do not fear to spend money on what i really love.

:P

What? I’m just maitaining my reputation of being the bad guy here. >:D

michael

On November 1, 2012 at 2:37 pm

I’m so pissed that this game wasnt released before the blackout. I still have to wait until my power comes back to play this. Also Gamestop sucks because if you preorder in one store you can’t pick it up anywhere else since its all corporate.

R.J.

On November 1, 2012 at 5:13 pm

I’d say this is fair. There are lots of small things that just irritate me with this game. First, the number of bugs, even with the day 1 patch, are easily the most I’ve seen in any of these games. As Phil mentioned, Connor just isn’t that interesting of a character, and that is surprising given the backstory they were working with. Some of the techniques from Ezio’s games were pulled with no real replacement, and I can’t see any reason for that. Plus, the stealth can be so frustrating. If you have any notoriety, you basically can’t go anywhere without being spotted immediately both because of how many soldiers there are and because all of them seem to be incredibly observant. I probably wouldn’t have a big problem with some of these if not for the fact that they seem to have had these things nailed down during the previous games. I’m all for trying to innovate, but a lot of these problems didn’t need to happen.

Ragner10

On November 2, 2012 at 8:07 am

I haven’t played the game yet but so far on the non spoiler info out there is extremely disappointing. Stealth needed to be improved and so far it seems like it’s even worse. The linearity of missions was another thing that comes across like a giant red flag. Some people say the combat is even easier and doing so was quite a feat, if anything AC series need to increase the challenge or add a harder mode.

Some say the game feels “bloated” with side content, this was a problem with Revelations and Brotherhood to an extent, they just added side activities that didin’t improve the gameplay at all (like assassin management and den defense) instead of truly improving the core gameplay.

I can’t help but feel Ubisoft shot themselves on the foot when they hyped this game to astronomical levels. Claiming it was in development for 3 years (1 more than the best in series ACII) made me think ACIII was going to curbstomp the previous entries easily. If half of the problems of this game out there are true, that is a nail in the coffin for the franchise to me. I mean if they had the longest dev time of all AC games to create a game that doesn’t improve on the basic problems of it like stealth, and mission linearity, and so on, what can you hope for the future of Assassin’s Creed?

It's Shafs

On November 2, 2012 at 10:47 am

@ Wesker1984, I don’t normally respond to trolls but I will change it for your case. One, obviously you are a fanboy considering how much you just invested in this game alone. I’m not bashing that at all and believe me there are stupid games that I love that other people would think ill of me for. One it was an opinion and MOSTLY I was talking to Phil, since I personally know him. Him and I rant about things all the time. But your rebuttal of why my comment was “stupid” was in fact garbage. I like gamefront bc posters like you generally don’t come here and leave that stuff for another major gaming website that shale not be named.

If you think the story is great and immersive, I’m glad you think so but tell me how, not how you spent 200 dollars on fanboy materials. And for the record, I used to be a fanboy of this series. CE in both 1 and 2 on my bookshelf. So I’m not some dude that is hating on the series that hasn’t really played and loved it. I’m just a disappointed one.

Bluedogfan

On November 2, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Ok I have not finished e game yet so perhaps it will be glitchy later. However overall I am satisfied with the game in general. I think the naval missions have added playability and I can see myself replaying those in the future. Now onto the stealth. I agree that it should be easier to walk in the low weeds. It does add a level of challenge to the missions they did not expect. It doesn’t phase me too much. Then again I replayed the last hitman game over and over so I could get all trophies.

The notoriety is crazy. It does seem that the standard redcoats with some tactics are pretty easy to dispatch though. I do like how you can attack while running. It does make some of the harder opponents easier to deal with. As a whole this is a marked improvement over Revelations. So far so good. Perhaps for future games we could look at other countries.

Anonymous

On November 3, 2012 at 4:42 pm

A review is a review, so I won’t be too harsh.

There are bugs, where units get stuck in trees for instance. But stealth bugs, such as making you stand when you are in cover? No… that’s just you pushing R1, right when you are about to move. Yeah…

The Assassination debacle you are referring to? You assassinated him from a tree? Hmm… no wonder you had so much trouble. I went straight for the flagpole. Imagine that… ended the battle with an assassination from the top of a flagpole bearing the american colony flag XD. Epic… got both optional objectives, only took two tries. And I guess there are multiple paths to conclusion after all. They made it hard as heck to complete 100% synchronization, but easy as pie to complete it normally? awwww…. -sniffle sniffle- (sarcasm*)

Connor is definitely pretty boring, a completely virtuous and sinless and just doing what needs to be done feel to him. When he is talking. Which is entirely fine. Why would you pay attention to Connor talking… shouldn’t you be listening to George Washington? Is there a question who the star of the conversations is supposed to be…? Weird… (sarcasm*)

The story lacks drive… Don’t really know what to say about that. You are a fictional character shaping the events of the American Revolution, and you think the story lacks drive. I really have nothing I can say… exactly WHAT do you want from a video game?! (sarcasm*)

Anonymous

On November 7, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I agree with the other anon. I’ve never encountered any bugs with the stealth mode although I’ve had some where, for instance, AI characters appear out of thin air. The naval missions were a nice change of pace. I’ve never felt that it was rushed, to be fair the menus were a bit confusing at first but they are pretty easy to navigate if you know what you’re looking for.
I don’t find Connor boring at all. (Fair enough he’s not the most interesting character in the series, but he’s not boring at all) and just because he’s quite naive in his views about freedom/equality doesn’t ruin the character.
Also, the notoriety system, I love it, the combat in this game is much better than the others I could fight guards for hours and if I struggle fighting all the guards, I just send my assassins in to help me or so i can make my escape. It does make sense in a way too, because you’re an assassins, you kill people as a “job” as it were. Obviously the guards would be looking for you.
To be honest, I don’t think this is a good review, and I’m not saying I could do better, but what you’ve said doesn’t match up with my experiences of the game.

Blackhex

On November 7, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I’m fairly new to the AC series, having only played ACII a few weeks before ACIII was released (I plan to continue with Brotherhood after 3). I’m at the start fo sequence 7 and for me the most disapointing aspect is Connor. Ezio was funny, charismatic and you felt for him and understood his motivations. From the betrayal and murder of half his family to discovering the conspiracy that led to that, thus spuring him on a path of vengence.
Connor has no personality whatsoever; there is no wit or humour (yes his situation is grave, but still, it was for Ezio and he still cracked a smile). He can’t even muster convincing anger; to me it seems like he is having a tantrum. He contradicts himself, sounding almost self rightous when telling Chapheau (the cook) that voilence isn’t the answer, yet it’s the only answer he has ever used and considering he is an Assassin, the only answer he should have.
His story seems thoroughly underdeveloped as I’m still not sure what his motivations are. What’s driving him: saving his village, avenging his mother by focusing his rage on Charles Lee who attacked him right before she died, killing his absentee father or going after the Templars, supporting the Patriots against the Bristish who have been infultrated by the Templars?
Even if his motives are unclear, had Connor not been so wooden and flat, devoid of personality, I wouldn’t have minded going along for the ride. I wish they had continued with Haytham’s story, then reveal his true nature at the very end of the story. He was by far more interesting than Connor.
As for the ending (yes, I looked up the ending), I wasn’t that bothered with Desmond, like some have already said he was a secondary character. I don’t know how they will overcome the very dangerous threat that looms, but I hope they focus more on the story and main character than gimmicks and one-yearly releases.

Brian

On November 8, 2012 at 8:52 am

Am I the only one annoyed to death about the map system with this game? Nobody even mentioned once that the full map is faded dark blue/black on top of black, which makes it almost impossible to tell if you’re uncovering the enormous map or not. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the important map blips appeared in the middle of nowhere, but you actually have to make your way around the entire Frontier to even see the terrain or where to go for certain side-quests.

The coverage from viewpoints is ridiculously small- you could cover the same amount of ground around one in the same amount of time it takes to make your way to the top of it. And a few of them don’t even have safedrops below to leap into without slowly climbing down (as long as you’re not in a tree without branches beneath you, in which case you will die from the drop), which to me breaks a cardinal rule of the series.

Other than that, there’s only one huge issue I have with the game. There’s no safe grab while you’re falling, a feature added after AC2 if I remember correctly. This is what feels to me like a huge step backward. The series is about ascending buildings and leaping from roof to roof, or branch to branch, but in this case they just gathered all the free-running controls to the right trigger and dropped all functions other than climbing and parkouring. It was such an obviously essential feature that I STILL find myself desperately holding the B button while falling just short of a gap, just to end up hitting the ground.

These issues I have may be minor, but they really stand out as major problems when you end up wasting your time trekking the Frontier in an area you’ve already mapped, or miss some of those more elusive Almanac pages.

Gathmor

On November 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I just hope when they come out with AC4 they will leave Connor behind. I know it’s difficult to create a new Ezio but to make an assassin that you cannot love? (It has to be his crapy voice acting) Seriously if this guy dies at the end of the AC3 (i am still finishing the game) I will be very happy.

Eduards

On March 8, 2013 at 2:08 am

Conor is talking about peace he is Peace Keeper.Ezio and Altair was cool they knew what they doing .

Eduards

On March 8, 2013 at 2:15 am

And when they going to make Assassin creed 4 its better be with out very ugly towns.Like Boston New york and other ugly towns.They can try to make China towns and story going to be in China.And character can be once and for all girl.